As someone who has spent rather too much of his recent time arguing about how sh!t the English Football League system is, I was delighted to hear AVB resurrect the long-standing debate about the standard of youth development in this country.
Now, whenever I begin this spiel, it is assumed that I am your run-of-the-mill glory-hunting Man Yoo fan. However, I say the following as a former Cambridge United season ticket holder. I spent many years and hours watching and believing in the standard of football at the Abbey, but after seeing two Wembley defeats in two years the penny dropped: none of these players are talented enough to be professional footballers.
That started a long period of questioning about the standard of English football and I eventually arrived at the following conclusion: if it is to improve, we must create solid foundations, both financial and cultural, on which to build a sustainable footballing economy. We need clubs which are able to employ more youth coaches, give better training to more young players, and sustain themselves in the long-term by the sale of their academy products.
Some statistics: England has the highest number of clubs in the world, according to FIFA’s Big Count, but a staggeringly low number of qualified coaches relative to their footballing rivals. England have no world-class players or managers, and yet there are two or three English clubs capable of winning the Champions League.
The fact is, English football is diseased and has been for decades. Lower League fans love to bash the Premier League for its financial excesses, but it didn’t cause this imbalance. It has merely highlighted it further. The solution is fewer clubs, more money for those remaining and the introduction of B Teams into the second tier.
Football League fans always reject this idea with the same vehemence. It strikes me that most fans seem to care more about their football club ceasing to exist than their bank or employer.
They do not mind paying disproportionately high prices to watch awful players play horrendous football. They moan about the Premier League’s high number of foreign players, but do not care about developing local talent. All they care about is that they have their club. Their club may be financially insolvent, relying on talentless journeymen & living day to day, but it’s theirs, and that’s all that matters.
What sort of football nation are we if we prioritise the fan experience over quality of football, youth development & sustainable cashflows? The truth is we don’t care about football and never have: we just want to get drunk together & have a good sing-song. If deeds follow tastes, then darts should be Britain’s national sport.